- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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When and where: Nov. 17-18, 20 at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Initial thoughts: Anxious to see Robbie Hummel in action, especially in a back-to-back game scenario like this one. … A slow start damned Alabama to the NIT last season, so lots of folks will be watching to see how the Crimson Tide play here. … The first-round game between Purdue and Iona could get even more intriguing if Gaels point guard MoMo Jones (who is transferring in from Arizona) is granted a hardship waiver. … Nice little walk down memory lane (or not, depending on the outcome) for Colorado coach Tad Boyle. Boyle spent six years as an assistant at Wichita State. … WSU and Alabama met for the NIT championship in March. The two could meet again here. … Will be interesting to see how dramatically things look from the get-go for Maryland, with defensive-minded Mark Turgeon in place of Gary Williams and his fast tempo. ... Temple’s deep backcourt could give opponents fits.
First-round matchup I can’t wait to see: With or without Jones, the Purdue-Iona game promises to be a good one. The Gaels already are on most short lists of mid-majors to watch, thanks to a loaded roster that finished second in the MAAC last year. This would be a nice name-brand win for Iona to grab early. The Boilermakers have some work to do, with the absence of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. But count out Hummel and his young supporting cast at your own risk.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Western Michigan against Alabama. So it lacks the name panache of some other potential finals -- this still could be an interesting game. The Broncos return all five of their starters to a team that won the West Division of the MAC and could be a nice sleeper/Cinderella pick come March. Put that sort of nothing-to-lose mid-major attitude up against an Alabama team that is facing legitimate expectations for the first time in a long time and you could have the makings of an entertaining game.
Key players to watch
JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, Alabama: Like bread and butter, you can’t say one without the other. The two forwards are the 1-2 punch expected to take the Crimson Tide (together they averaged 30 points and 14 boards last year) to big things this year.
Michael Glover, Iona: If you haven’t heard of Glover yet, you will by the end of the season. Originally targeted for Seton Hall, the forward proved he could play just about anywhere last season, averaging 18 points and 10 boards per game.
Robbie Hummel, Purdue: Everyone in the basketball community will be rooting hard for Hummel, a well-liked and well-respected player who’s had more than his share of hardships. Back after tearing his ACL for the second time -- No. 2 coming on the first day of practice last season -- Hummel now being the Hummel of old will be key for the Boilermakers this season.
Scootie Randall, Temple: Before breaking his foot in February, the guard was on the verge of something special, averaging 15 points per game in conference play. Without Lavoy Allen, the Owls need Randall to be every bit as good this season.
Juwan Howard Jr., Western Michigan: The freshman carried the mantle of his name with aplomb, getting named to the All-MAC rookie team after notching double figures in half of the 30 games he played in.
Predicted winner: Alabama. The Crimson Tide barely missed the NCAA tournament this past spring and then had to swallow the lousy pill of a loss in the NIT title game. So there’s plenty to fuel the Tide’s fire and plenty of fuel in the form of Green and Mitchell. In a field with plenty of talent, there is none to rival what Anthony Grant has at his disposal. Expect the Tide to prove the expectations are warranted by winning a title here.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Wichita State
Andy Katz: Alabama
Diamond Leung: Temple